Rational Religion

by Dave on July 16, 2010

in General, Theology

I know that it seems like an oxymoron, but I believe that there needs to be a rationality with which we approach religion or all of religion risks being relegated to irrational people with political agendas and cult like followings.  I am specifically following up to my previous post, Are the Southern Baptists a Cult?.  I have been actively participating in a series of posts relating to this subject over at the Jesus Creed, and decided that I need to start a longer term project of thinking through the relationship between religious beliefs and rationality.

To start, I propose this sequence:

  1. Personal Revelation with God Trumps All
  2. Solid, experimental physical evidence trumps the rest
  3. Reason trumps the rest
  4. Historic Church teaching trumps the rest (i.e. the church interpretation of bible)
  5. Scripture trumps the rest

To put this into practice, you could use this as follows.  Let’s take an example such as the existence of Jesus as God.  Step 1 would ask if I had a personal experience with God that I believe and makes it so.  This would not mean, in this case, whether you participated in a religious service and had a feeling like you knew Jesus.  Instead, step 1 would mean something like God spoke to you in your mind and gave you a vision of Jesus and he told you that this was Jesus and that he was part of God.  If you have not had that then you go to step 2.

In step 2, we would see if we have physical evidence of Jesus and his being God.  No we don’t.  So go to step 3.

Step 3 asks whether you can use reason to know that Jesus is God and is real.  No you can’t.  So go to step 4.

Step 4 asks if there is an existing exegesis of the Bible that will lead to this conclusion for you.  If you are a Christian then you have to answer yes, there is.

Then you go back a step and ask, given my base as step 4, is there cause to trump that.  In this case, is there cause for you to use additional reason.  If you don’t feel like researching it better then it is perfectly rational for you to accept the conclusion that Jesus is God based on the teaching of the Christian Faith of which you are a part.  Easy, right?

The key to this is that there are ever increasing hurdles that you would have to overcome as one goes higher and higher up the ladder, to step 1 or 2 for instance.  Said another way, if you simply open the bible and decide to read a passage on your own and take what it says on the surface and believe that, then you do not have a lot to stand on.  But if the Church had a history of interpreting the Bible the same way you did then you could be more confident in your believe.  Then if it was reasonable you would be more confident.  If there was physical evidence even more, and then finally personal experience you would be the most confident.

This is the way the Biblical references to Jerusalem are.  You could open the Bible and find the following passage in Matthew:

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east[b] and have come to worship him.”  NIV

In this passage you would make the assumption that Jerusalem was a city in the time of Jesus.  To add more credibility to this, one would see if the Christian Church teaches this.  A quick search of the Roman Catholic Catechism would tell you that they indeed think it is a city in the Ancient Near East (ANE).  Then you could think it is reasonable given both of those to think that.  Then you could search Wikipedia and see if there is physical evidence for this.  Then you can plan a trip and actually go there and know for sure that Jerusalem is a city that was in the ANE.

If this sounds reasonable then one would have to think twice about the arguments that Al Mohler made regarding the age of the earth in the speech I reference in my post Are the Southern Baptists a Cult?.  In that speech, Mohler argues over and over about how if we were to believe that the earth is old, then it would cause a mass rethinking of the theology that has come before.  90% of his speech is basically saying that he does not want to even consider the physical evidence because their teaching is more important.  I can interpret his hierachy of steps to be:

  1. Southern Baptist Church Teaching
  2. The Bible
  3. Reason
  4. Physical Evidence
  5. Personal Experience

He strongly made the argument that his church theology is the most important thing, and they will overrule Reason, the Bible interpretation, Physiscal evidence and everything else to maintain that their teaching is preserved.  Note that he is not saying that the Bible is the most important thing.  He is saying that their interpretation of the Bible is the most important thing.  If he was saying that the Bible is the most important thing then he would propose many more studies to try and understand how their interpretation may be wrong.  But he isn’t saying that.  What he is saying is that he won’t even look at it.

They are a cult.

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